ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 9; Violin Concerto No. 1
PERFORMER: Leonidas Kavakos (violin); Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: MAR 0524 (hybrid CD/SACD)
With an impressive CV that includes fulsome endorsement from no less a figure than the late Mstislav Rostropovich, the 29-year-old Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno (born 1985) seems destined to become a major presence in the concert hall. And judging by the enthusiastic applause, her playing of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto given in St Petersburg in July 2013 went down a storm with a discerning Russian audience. Whether, on the other hand, this performance warranted permanence in the form of a commercial recording is another matter.
There’s little doubt that Moreno is a formidable artist blessed with an immaculate technique. Here she delivers both the Scherzo and ‘Burlesque’ of the Concerto with fervour and passion. Where her interpretation is less engaging is in the emotionally elusive sections of the score, particularly the lonely numbed threnody of the opening ‘Nocturne’ and the reflective passages at the outset of the Cadenza which don’t quite draw you in.
One other major disadvantage with Moreno’s version is the disappointingly distant perspective given by the recording to the St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, which results in the ominous opening paragraph of the Passacaglia sounding tame and curiously muffled. Indeed, throughout the performance, Yuri Temirkanov seems far too content to take a back seat, offering a relatively dull and characterless orchestral accompaniment.
In contrast, Leonidas Kavakos and Valery Gergiev establish a partnership of equals from the outset. This is a truly symphonic performance in which the Mariinsky Orchestra plays as active and vibrant a role in the musical dialogue as the soloist. Such qualities are particularly evident in the tremendously incisive contrapuntal interplay between solo woodwind and violin in the Scherzo and in the wonderfully crafted build-up of tension at the climax of the Passacaglia. In the Nocturne, Kavakos mesmerises the listener with the subtle poetry of his phrasing, and at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, delivers a hard-hitting manic account of the Burlesque.
Although Moreno’s coupling of 19 of the 24 Preludes, idiomatically arranged for violin and piano by Dmitri Tsyganov and Lera Auerbach, is dispatched with bags of charisma, Gergiev’s decision to partner the Concerto with an insightful account of the Ninth Symphony makes far better sense, allowing you to chart the composer’s development through the troubled years immediately following the end of the Second World War. Erik Levi